Remembering Terry Jean Pollard

Posted by & filed under In Memoriam.

Terry Jean Pollard was known in the Detroit jazz community as “the queen of the vibes” for her mastery of the instrument. A Detroit bred pianist/vibraphonist, Pollard was a powerhouse performer who started out playing at jazz clubs around the city including a famous stint with the Billy Mitchell band at the Blue Bird Inn during the 1950s. She was discovered by vibraphonist Terry Gibbs while performing a gig at the Beehive Club in in Detroit in 1952.

According to Gibbs, “Terry was the first female I ever heard swing that hard.”

The Terry Gibbs Quartet featuring Terry Pollard toured nationwide between 1952 – 1960.

Another cool note I discovered about Pollard is that jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie offered Terry a job when they played at Birdland numerous times and she turned them down due to her loyalty to Gibbs.

I first learned about Pollard while reading the book Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit and became fascinated by her story and musical acumen. I wanted to learn more about her and why she was not as well known within jazz circles as some of her Detroit music peers. She was the force behind my research of other Detroit female musicians and was included in my presentation for Detroit Sound Conservancy titled “What About Us: Community Archiving and documenting the legacy of Detroit female jazz musicians.

Pollard passed away in 2009 and her son, musician Dennis Michael Weeden started a foundation called the Terry Jean Pollard Foundation in 2014 to honor the memory of his mother.

The Terry Jean Pollard Music Foundation is dedicated to individual development by providing students with preparation to further their musical skills. Through my research on Pollard I got to know her son Michael and have been helping him to preserve the legacy of his mother through adding her items to museums across the country. On July 28th, the TJP Music Foundation honored Pollard with a street named after her in the Conant Gardens Community where she used to live.

The street naming of Pollard is a huge step for the foundation and Weeden is continuing to make sure his mother”s work is brought to the masses through the organization and having her items archived in museums. To learn more about Pollard, check out the TJP website.

Dennis Michael Weeden reading about Terry Jean Pollard during the street naming ceremony.

Veronica Johnson is a project manager, freelance writer, and recent graduate of Library and Information Science with a focus on Archival Administration. She is also an advisor for Detroit Sound Conservancy. Her work has been featured in Metro Times, Real Detroit Weekly, Model D, The Jazz Line and IXITI. Her current research is focused on women in jazz. Her work on Detroit hip hop is published in the book A Detroit Anthology, which features articles, poems, essays, and photos about the city of Detroit. The book came out May 2014.

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